Processions and "Liturgical Dance"

I’m aware that dance has been suppressed during the mass and my parish seems to have made an attempt at obedience to the guidlines (they no longer do any sort of interpretive dance during the homily slot, for example or anything that could be considered “dance” during the actual mass itself at all.

But the program has been reconstituted to become an elaborate entrance procession before mass actually starts in which the teenage girl “liturgical dancers” wear simple white tunics, carry banners on poles that they wave in time with the opening song and precede the lectors, alter servers, deacon and priest in the procession. It’s quite nice, actually. (But I’m not one to go with my own gut on nice if there are actual standards in place.) They also participate more solemnly (no dance) preceding the family that brings up the bread and wine, then there is a danceish recessional after the close of mass.

Technically, there is no liturgical dancing going on during mass. Does this actually comply with the liturgical norms? I know there was some specific Vatican guidance given on correcting abuses in liturgical dance, can anybody point me to it? I foresee a day when my girls will be interested in participating, so I need to get a head start on the facts.


Hi. has an informative article with canon and GIRM sources that state common liturgical abuses here. (See number 9.)

Based on your description, yes, what your parish is doing is strictly prohibited. No priest can add or take away from the requirements of the Roman Missal. Processions and recessions cannot have any movements other than just walking to and from.

A good rule of thumb is to watch a Mass broadcast from St. Peter’s Basilica or as seen on daily Masses from EWTN as bellweathers. If you don’t see the behavior you describe, it’s not to be done.

I’ve seen the same thing, and I’ve wondered the same thing. While it goes without saying that there are certain “performances” that should not take place ever in a church, regardless of whether Mass is about to start or not, I don’t know what the position is on performances that would otherwise be allowed in the sacred space of church outside of Mass.

It seems to me that if it happens during the same song as the processional, the liturgical sense is going to be that it is part of the processional, and that for all practical purposes it has become a part of the Mass. It seems like finding a loophole in the letter of the law that attempts to get around the spirit of the law.

OTOH, I have a bit of a problem (not that my opinion is binding on anyone whose opinion counts) with the concept that dancing during Mass (or shortly before or after Mass) is OK in certain cultures but not in others. With a melting pot like we have in this country, that is asking for trouble. You may as well only give a dispensation for people who are actually of Irish descent to have beef on St. Patrick’s feastday when it falls on a Friday in Lent. Technically, a bishop can do it, it is his perogative to dispense where he sees fit, but I don’t think it is a good idea. It seems that a practice should be either allowed in a physical diocese or not allowed.

I’ll be curious to read what people who know have to post on this subject.

The problem is that I’ve seen our archbishop allow the exact same thing, but the only ones who ever get to do it are dancers who are in the legitimate traditional garb of their own ethnic group, doing legitimately traditional dances. And, as I remember, the musical accompaniment is distinct from the processional music, as well. I’ve never seen him allow the teens-in-tunics thing, which has less true cultural tradition going for it than American Bandstand.

Papal Masses (but only those with a cultural context that matches ours) in general are a good guidelines. People go out of their way to make Masses for a visit by the Holy Father very festive, so what stops there are allowed are all pulled out. I’m thinking that EWTN is less of an indication of where the boundaries are, though. Not a bad thing, but I wouldn’t go so far as saying that if were allowed, EWTN would be doing it. That isn’t their charism. Their charism, rather, is more to find the extreme beauty that exists well within the boundaries.

There is a technicality involved here, which prompts the question: precisely where in the “procession” are these dancers? Do they appear before or after the crucifer?

gag me with a spoon
it has not been so much supressed as never allowed or existed at all in the Latin Rite. yes there is room for elaborate procession but it involves the priests and other ministers of the altars, never ever what there a provision for scantiliy clad ladies, teens lovely to look at, or fat old ladies like me (even worse) waving banners. ever. Nada. I defy anyone to find any vestige of it in sacred tradition.

the only exceptions that might be possible would be where Mass is celebrated in a territory where native cultural traditions can be included legitimately, such as the very beautiful and reverant rhythmical way of moving in procession you might see at Mass in Africa, or matachinas at a Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. Both of those would be natural in their own settings, and quite out of place in the average suburban American parish.

Dancers do their thing, clear the sanctuary, then the crucifer and the processional comes in. There is an effort to have something distinct.

Their dress is not scanty. They wear black to the feet and wrists, black ballet slippers or the like, no skin except their hands showing on their limbs, and then have these colorful tunics over that which go well over the knees and show their curves not at all. I suppose a prairie dress would be more modest, but all that is seen is legs below the knees and arms. The rest is covered. It would take a strict standard to fault them on grounds of modesty. As for the “dance”, it is mostly expressed in their arm, hand, and head movements. They walk with the music, but they don’t jump or spin or anything like that.

I can’t fault them for trying. Actually, I think if it were possible to be within the rules, they are. I hate to put limits on others that aren’t there in the rubrics just because I don’t like something, but I just don’t know if it is possible to have this at all without it being anything other than an inappropriate novelty.

It’s not clear if that is the case in the OP. Or are you speaking of the same place? :confused:

Yeah, what you describe is technically “within the rules” (the “letter of the law” but certainly not in the “spirit of the law”), since the procession technically begins with the crucifer. That which precedes the procession is technically not part of the liturgy. As I see it, technicalities notwithstanding, it’s inappropriate (and that irrespective of whether the “dancers” are nude or wearing burkas). Positioning the “dancers” before the crucifer is merely an attempt to invoke a technicality to allow something that is prohibited.

As a dancer myself, I hate liturgical dance. What you describe sounds pretty awful from a dance prespective (no real movement, cluncky costumes, music is probably muzak-y as well :p) Add to that the fact that it is a liturgical no-no (and skirting that territory even as you describe it), I just can’t see where the interest is.

To the OP, have your girls take real dance classes at a place that does recitals, have them join the drum corps at school, Irish dancing, anything but the banner waving nonsense. :smiley:

When he was still in office I saw a video podcast of Cardinal Arinze who distinguished between liturgical dance and “rhythmic processions” in Africa – and mocking the idea of Europeans doing the same thing. Well, not mocking exactly, but disapproving.

Obviously, his idea of what was okay in a certain place/culture is just not going to fly elsewhere.

I also remember once someone called CA Radio about a Hispanic parish where a mariachi band had provided the music for the Mass. Jimmy Akin kind of sighed & said, “Well, I guess some genuine inculturation is better than a lot of other innovations.”

Send the leader of this dance troupe a card that says “Mass - It Ain’t About You.”

Easter Joy describes a similar scene as in my parish, except the costumes are different. In our case, it is bulky white tunic that extends well below the knee and tied at the waist with a red rope and a translucent white head covering that looks like a cross between nun-wear and a liberal Islamic head covering. Not remotely immodest or alluring, but it was a bit distasteful that they were all barefoot. :confused:

The procession preceded the Crucifix (of which we have a rather nice, suffering Christ version) and again at the closing. Presentation of the gifts was more of a human framing of the gift bearers than anything you could call “dance.”

I do have to wonder why it would be that dance is OK for one culture and not another. It smacks of “Victorian White Bread” attitude towards how ‘civilized’ people behave.:blush:

But in the end, it’s likely that it bugged me for a reason. Thanks for the input.

Should I send the same card to the organist? The artist who charged umpteen thousand dollars for the life size crucifix? The iconographer who did the art that flanks the altar? The seamstress who made the priest’s vestments? The metal worker who forged and gilded the chalice? The altar servers who wear distinctive clothes?

I’m willing to obey authority, but I prefer to comprehend. In the long term, it bolsters the authority instead of erodes it. I’m still struggling to see how some art forms are seen as able to glorify God in the liturgy, while other art forms are considered ‘profane’ and a distraction from God.

I think Cardinal Arinze (a Nigerian) explained it pretty well in the video that was mentioned above and which you can watch here, at YouTube.

The OP and I are not at the same place (as far as I know), but my sense is that we may as well be. They must teach this at the Congress in LA or someplace like that.

As for being nude or in burkas, covering as much as a burka does would be appropriate in church. Being nude isn’t. Since there are limits to what may be allowed to take place in a church, even outside of Mass, there actually is a big difference.

My opinoin is that the “pre-Mass” performances I have seen are far below the aesthetic standard appropriate in a church. The aesthetic standard for a place of worship, inside of Mass or outside of it, is to have the best, and if the best is not appropriate for church, then to not have it at all. IMHO, you don’t take what is excellent but only appropriate outside of church and change it for use in church unless you can remove what makes it secular without robbing it of what makes it excellent. Once it becomes vapid, it is inappropriate, too. (And maybe that is what you meant by “inappropriate, irrespective”, above.)

I think that dance in modern day America so celebrates everything human, so centers on the human form, purely human experience, and a humanistic sensibility and feels such a need to re-interpret anything traditional that it is nearly impossible to accomplish that. You essentially have to bring in something untouched from another Catholic culture in order to have a dance that is appropriate for performance within the confines of an American church…and in this country, even that must be at least technically outside the confines of Mass.

But I am not a dancer. Perhaps that is only my amateur opinion. Perhaps there is some Palastrina out there who can stay inside the rules and prove me wrong. Just because I haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I can only hope. If such a thing is ever composed, it will replace this stuff very quickly. The dance I currently see is to whatever good pre-Mass performance might be as macrame is to medieval tapestries. I’ve never seen the good stuff, but I know that when I see it, it will be miles beyond what I’m seeing.

The purpose of the rubrics is to elicit what you are supposed to do, not what you should not do.
Where in the rubrics does it talk about dancing?

If he prances down the aisle, yep.

If the artist insisted on prancing around the tabernacle, yes.

There is what is allowed during Mass by the rubrics, and then there is what is allowed in church at all, at any time. The technicality here seems to be that they are attempting to have what is allowed in the church outside of Mass, but not in the Mass, and then place it just far enough outside the Mass to make it kosher.

If it isn’t kosher, I’m duty-bound to object, even if I happen to like it. If it is kosher, but I don’t like it, then I have to think a bit about how much my personal opinion counts, considering that some people do find this edifying, prayerful, and entirely a good preparation for the Mass.

It does stop people from talking right up until the processional starts, there is that.

Good point. If I were to live in such a parish, I would plan to enter church after the dancers finished their thing. Then I would do my best to find another parish.

It is not as if body movements are not used in our worship, or as if every kind of music, sculpture, painting or fabric art is appropriate for church. There are boundaries placed on every kind of artistic expression used in church, and there are some artists in every medium who are ignorant of, defiant of, or compliant to but angry about the boundaries.

You wouldn’t know it in some churches, but there are particular kinds of music that aren’t allowed. There are sculptures that are deemed unsuitable and types and arrangements of church furniture that aren’t OK. There are guidelines for vestment-making, too: you can’t do chasubles that are primarily in royal blue or orange, and chasubles can’t have sleeves. (OK, there are places in Spain where royal blue is allowed by long-standing permission.)

As far as I know, though, it is not that sacred dance is not allowed in church at all. It is that sacred dances may not currently be incorporated into the liturgy. Why? I would guess because the Church doesn’t trust the dancers not to violate whatever rules are set up, but that is only a guess. Maybe dancers were too prominent in some pagan rituals. I don’t know! :shrug:

Based on what I’m seeing so far, immediately before and after mass, I’m not in a big hurry to change the situation, though. I can’t claim to be a great arbiter, though. Maybe as sacred dance evolves, the attitudes will, too.

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